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Growing software influence and Dell

A few things have happened in the last couple of months that show the growing influence and maturity of the software team at Dell, and it’s been on my backlog to write up as a blog post.

DMTF VP of Regional Chapters

Yinghua Qin, the Senior Software Manager in our Zuhai China laboratory has been accepted as the new VP of Regional Chapters at the DMTF. This is an outstanding opportunity for Yinghua, who leads the Foglight and a number of software engineering projects, as well as serves as the local liaison to Sun Yat-sen University(SYSU) school mobile engineering (SMIE). Yinghua reports to the Foglight lead architect Geoff Vona.

Dell actually has at various stages in the past been very proactive with the DMTF. Current board chair, Winston Bumpus, was formally a Dell employee; My ESG colleague Jon Haas has been a major contributor to a number of standards. I for one am looking forward to the increased cooperation that working in international standards can bring.

Open Source Project

The Dell Cloud Manager product development team have open sourced their blockade test tool. Blockade is a utility for testing network failures and partitions in distributed applications. Blockade uses Docker containers to run application processes and manages the network from the host system to create various failure scenarios.

It’s a small step, but congratulations to Tim Freeman and the team for navigating through the process to produce the first new open source development project from the Dell Software Group team.

Angular giveback

A number of our development teams are using Angular.js. Once again after an original approach in November by Sara Cowles from the Dell Cloud Manager team stepped forward and asked the right questions, after checking with other teams, I was happy to sign the Google CLA to fax back to google.

Yocto – Embedded Linux and Beyond

Congratulations also go to Mikey Brown from Dells’ Enterprise Systems Group(ESG). Mikey has picked up the mantle of a project I was a big supporter of, when I was in ESG, Yocto. After doing a great job getting a couple of our embedded Linux offering back on track using Yocto, and the build infrastructure around. Mickey has re-connected with the Yocto team.

Each of these on their own are small steps, but these plus a number of other things going on give me a good feeling things are heading in the right direction. I’ll get to go have another facsinating time hearing from students about how things look from their side of the technology field when I head over to Texas A&M University(Insert “GO AGGIES” here!) to address class 481 on 2/25.

TechWeekEurope UKSoftware Will Make A Quarter Of Dell’s Profits – Swainson

Great software overview of what’s going on here at Dell.

Quest Software Update

Friday Dell announced that we’d closed on the acquisition of Quest Software. The last 50-days or so has been a blur for me,  as I wrote back in July I’ve moved to the new Dell Software group, and was asked to lead the technical integration and R&D integration of Quest Software. We’ve been busy visiting as many of their R&D centers as we can, and this will continue through the end of October.

I’d describe it as a roller coaster, the ups have been meeting the great teams in Linden UT, Toronto, Ottowa, Halifax Canada, St Petersburg and Moscow in Russia, and spending time both networking with Quest Executives and team members at VMWorld, as well as some of the other teams like AppAssure and SonicWall that are part of the new Dell Software group.

The downs in my roller coaster have been the travel, I really don’t enjoy the day-in, day-out, overnight travel. Especially as things always seem to be more difficult than they should be. For instance, applying for a work visa for China apparently requires submitting both my passport and green card, which means if stopped by the police, or immigration officials anywhere, I can not prove I’m legally in the USA. This happened to me once already on an checkpoint on I10 near Corpus Christi and I hadn’t even left Texas, not a pleasant experience. Then there was the guy sat opposite me on the train from Moscow to St Petersburg, rather than ending up with a Contagion like pandemic infection, I just got a bad cold.

However it’s been tempered by my travel colleagues, Elaine from Quest and Craig from Dell who are the actual R&D project managers for the acquisition.  We’ve been joking about making Rock and Roll style tour t-shirts, a simple Dell Software logo on the front, on the back it would have QUEST: The final tour and a list of the dates and locations. I still may do it, especially as we have Buffallo Grove, Madison WI, Berlin, Dresden, Israel, Horton and Poole in the UK, Honk Kong and China all before the end of October.

The best thing has been meeting all the great software experts, seeing some of the great products, to mention just a few: the great new UI on the Site Administrator for Sharepoint; the Quest Books software for electronic publishing; the Open source work going on at the Linden UT labs; the really great platform work that has been done for the Foglight and Netvault XA software, and much, much more.

In addition to that, the Software Group CTO team is starting to fill out, Jay and Craig are hear from the Enterprise Solutions Group(ESG) team, and we’ve been joined by Graeme, a former colleague and fellow Distinguished Engineer from IBM and of course Don Ferguson is the CTO, and VP for our group. Jai Menon, former IBM Fellow and for short period of time, my manager at IBM, has also joined Dell ESG as CTO and so we are really getting things “better together”.

Blades a go-go in Austin

We’ve been working on some interesting technology prototypes of our common software architecture. It forms the core of the “Maverick” virtualization solution, the orchestrator for the Dell Virtual Integrated System(VIS).[More on this in a follow-on post].

We have a far reaching outlook for the common software architecture including embedded systems. One thing I’ve been looking at is creating a top-of-rack switch, with an embedded management server. We demonstrated it to Michael Dell and the Executive Leadership Team on Monday to show them where we are with software.

The same stack and applications for the next generation Blade Chasis Management Controller (CMC). For VIS, we are building a set of “adjacency” services so that it can scale to thousands of physical servers. So it was with some interest when I saw this piece in the Austin American Statesman, our “local” paper. It covers the new $9 million supercomputer at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus of the University of Texas, to be installed next year.

The newest “Lonestar” system will be built and deployed by the Texas Advanced Computing Center; it’s expected to be operational by February 2011 and will will include 1,888 M610 PowerEdge Blade servers from Dell Inc., each with two six-core Intel X5600 Westmere processors.

Our VP of Global higher education, John Mullen, was quoted as saying “The system will be built on open-system architecture, which means it can be expanded as needed, that’s a cost-effective switch from proprietary systems of the past.”

Another coincidence for me, the entrance to the J.J. Pickles campus is right opposite the entrance to my old IBM office on Braker Lance, proving once again that old adage, as one do closes, another opens.

heading for the Doc’s, I’ll be working at home later, looks like my foot is indeed in need of medical attention…

Talking to Matt Domsch, Dell Linux technology lead, over coffee this morning, Matt gave me an idea to try – I’ve set-up all my accounts and this is the only status updates I’m going to do that will go to all my active social networking sites. Let’s see…

Normal service will be returned following this!

Dell Management Console and 11G Server Launch

I spent Friday afternoon in a wet Round Rock parking lot where we held the launch thank you party for the team that put together the 11th Generation of Dell servers and the associated management software. We don’t complain about rain in Austin, it feeds some of the best things about town, namely Barton Springs, Lake Travis, which feeds Town Lake where I run, and the lake at Pure Austin North where I swim, in perfect conditions, twice per week. The celebration was sponsored by our partner Broadcom.

The event was hosted by our executives, including Michael Dell, and they made some important observations on the process to design the servers, market acceptance and customer feedback. While I was waiting in the food line, one the other folks and I got talking, he said “I looked at your blog the other day and you didn’t write anything on the Dell Management Console”. And he’s right.

It’s a significant step forward for Dell customers and for Dell. The DMC is based on the modular Symantec Management Platform architecture and offers a comprehensive set of features at no additional cost. While I was in IBM Power Systems, one of the fights I had with them was over their console and management strategy. While I’m sure they had good reasons the way they did, what they did, their ongoing strategy couldn’t follow the same path of fragmented consoles for this, consoles for that, different interfaces, different terminology for the same things etc. I’m hopeful still that when they introduce their next generation of servers, they’ll have learned the lessons that Dell already has.

DMC replaces the existing Dell hardware management console, Dell OpenManage IT Assistant. DMC has a plug-in architecture that allows the console to be extended with additional function and to be used as a manager for other scenarios, devices etc. However, true to the Dell mission to simply IT, Reduce TCO and one way we are doing that is to included a significant amount of function in the base, rather than as chargeable plugins. Here’s a summary of the major functions and improvements over prior offerings:

  • Hardware - multiple choices on how to explore, report and understand hardware configs plus export as tables; many pre-configured reports asd well as the ability to create your own.

    Proactive heartbeat monitoring is also supported, based on a user defined schedule; event suscription is also supported for Dell servers and MIBs can be imported for non-Dell hardware.

    You can push config changes and agent, BIOS, driver and firmware patches to many servers simultaneously without scripting.

  • Security – you can group devices and servers by geographical, logical, organisztional or type, or create your own. These can then be managed using role based secuity. You can create your own roles, or import them from Microsoft Active Directory.
  • Software – Support for hypervisors such as VMware(r) ESXi as well as Microsoft and Citrix. Health monitoring, discovery of virtual machines, associate to physical host server etc. Also included is the normal OS monitoring of utilization for memory, processors, free space and I/O.
  • Networking – The console includes support for a broad range of devices, but also includes support for Fibre Channel switches.

Thats an outline of the support in the new Dell Management Console, powered by Altiris from Symantec. I went to look for a couple of white papers to include links for. One with a more detailed list of device support and a second with a more comprehensive strategy that showed the plug-in architecture and the other function available for DMC. I came across this great resource, the Dell POWER Solutions magazine(just a hint of irony).

Here is a link where you can download the entire magazine, as a 21Mb PDF file. Alternatively, here is a link for an index into the articles where you can review each article seperately.

Moo cards II

Moo cards II - The Next GenerationWhen I first created “business” moo cards, it created quite a bit of a stir. So I figured I’d post the moo cards II the next generation design. Unfortunately I didn’t get organised early enough to get them for this weekends AustinBarCampIV, so I’ll be using the standard Dell ones if needed.

I actually found a useful feature of PowerPoint 2007. If you import the image(s). and the text on top, then select all the elements, you can export as a single file, rather than a ppt file or doing a screen copy and then saving with another program. Go ahead, make your own ;-)

Short DNS and brand ownership

I cycle home Wednesday evenings and back in on Thursday morning, it’s a 22-mile drag from Round Rock to Down Town Austin, with some quiet bits, some busy bits and some dangerous bits. While spinning up North Lamar heading south  towards 183, I was thinking about the rise of web URL shortnening websites such as, which was the first I was aware of that offered a free service to take a long url such as this blog entry and turn it into

The main reason these became really popular was becuase some systems, such as Lotus Notes used to produce bizzare, very, very long URL’s for pages in Notes databases. It was easier to remember than it would be to remember the page name, try it… Now, people these days know these services for where every character counts, but thats not how or why they started.

There are a bunch of these services,,,, etc. I tend to use snurl as it allows you to save specific names, I’m sure other shortners do too. What I was thinking about last night was the ownership, rights etc. to shortened URLs.

When my son wanted some cards from to help him promote his DJ work, I created them for him, but his myspace URL didn’t easily fit and flow, and what if later he wanted to create a website, he’d have to get new cards.

Answer, use snurl. So Oli and his alter ego Kaewan are now – It currently points to his myspace profile, but I can change it whenever I want. 

So these services have become, in some way, analgous to Domain Registrars. Sure a short URL isn’t a domain, but effectively it’s the same as one, except you don’t own it, and you didn’t have to pay for it. For fun I created – It actually points to Redmonks home page. But it could easily point elsewhere. And there’s the rub. With a traditional Name regsitrar there is an established right of review and appeal if you believe that someone has registered a domain that impinges on your brand and trademarks.

Not long after I created this blog, original DNS _ I got a “cease and desist” call from IBM legal pointing out that this wasn’t allowed and I should stop using it and not re-register the domain when it expired. SO where does point to? Well not IBM and is was nothing to do with me.

(Belated) Leaving drinks in London

Since I’m coming over to the UK to get my new machine readable visa inserted in my passport, it’s a great opportunity for a “leaving drink”. So consider this an open invitation to all my former IBM UK Colleagues, either current or past, and any customers, analysts, journalists or consultants that I worked with.

I’ll be at the Archduke on Concert Hall Approach between IBM South Bank at Waterloo Station from 5.30pm onwards on February 23rd to buy drinks. I was going to say I’d be easy to find since I’ll be the one in cowboy boots and hat, but that would be an untrue stereotype for Austin, and decent cowboy boots are expensive, and I doubt I can find a hat big enough for my head ;-) – So I’ll pass on that idea.

If you can make it along it would be great to see you, even if you just have time to stop in and say “goodbye”. Feel free to add a comment if you can or can’t make it, in case I need to make any special arrangements with the Archduke.

More history rewrites

One of todays cyber storms is the release of Googles Chrome browser. It comes with it’s own comic book style explanation which includes some major rewrites of history, including a few geographical snafus as the Register points out.

However, my favorite is the one on page-4 where it says “We’re applying the same kind of process isolation you find in modern operating systems” – Like err, address spaces in the 1970’s mainframe systems. Just because Windows was borked doesn’t mean everything else is… but then if Google says its true, it must be. So how radical is the concept of running tabs as processes and freeing up all the memory when you close a tab… not very.

Oh yeah, and I remember around 1985 when the VM/SP pubs team first used cartoons to explain topics in some of the VM/SP manuals, so even thats not new google. Still nice to see the youngsters re-invent the old, maybe next up will be google coke, if you put a dirty penny in it, it cleans it… Wow.

Having said that, I’ll be trying out Google Chrome, muppet I know.

Repair, Refurbish or redesign?

I posted this as a response to some of the very short sighted comments and rant going on over on PoguesPosts, the latest in Technology from NY Times reporter/columnist David Pogue. The topic was about replacing a broken screen on an iPhone and the $245 cost.

Universally though both David and all 108 posters before me seemed to completely miss is the opportunity to do things better, not to gripe about Apples costs, or the poor or otherwise design of the iPhone. So, here’s my take on it.

“I think the point is that we and the companies that we buy from, HAVE to start being much more responsible with our electronic goods from the point of design.

Is it unreasonable to expect the designers of one of the best gadgets in the last few years to think about how they are serviced, refurbished and disposed of, I think not.

We simply can’t go on forever buying stuff and dumping the old, unwanted broken stuff without regard. The designers have their part to play in this, as do the companies that sell us stuff. Why didn’t the designers expect to see a reasonable amount of broken screens? Why isn’t there a reasonably priced refurbishment program that replaces the outer case, scratched glass etc.

This is an important challenge and one we all need to rise to. It is simply not good enough to just keep dumping old electronic devices with no regard to where the raw materials, components for the next one come from, and where the waste goes from the last one.

Shame on Apple for not making it easier to replace a broken screen, shame on Apple for not providing a more cost effective repair service.”

{Edit: What really made me think of reposting this was because when I read the posted version(uneditable) I realised I’d missed a vital NO in “no regard” in the 2nd from last paragraph.}

Super-dense systems

Newtons 3rd law of motion is in essence “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”.

When x86 and rack systems couldn’t scale up to handle the demands of modern computing, they scaled out. Scale out systems are OK to a point, but soon the complexity and cost of scale out becomes a real hurdle and building plumbing isn’t what most businesses want to pay their employees to do.

The IBM reaction to this has been the recent announcement of two super-dense systems. These are server consolidation platforms on steroids. Earlier this month we announced the new POWER6 “Hydro-Cluster” supercomputer, the Power 575, which has upto 448 processor cores per rack. Today see’s the press announcement of the IBM iDataplex server, an x86-based super-dense server.

In case the benefits of a super-dense system are not obvious, the weekends mysterious video has re-appeared on YouTube. iDataplex is currently a custom build offering rather than a product, and can be built with a range of different cores and boards to suit the application from low power, low heat to high function high power.

The press release on iDataplex is here and the video here.

Chinposin Friday

Cathcam chinposin on flickrI never really got casual Friday. Here at IBM, Friday pm is Think Friday, no repetitive meetings, time to think and urgent meetings only. Yep, I wear my jeans in on Fridays and try to catch up on email, not much time to think. Casual Friday for me though is more than clothes, it’s a state of mind thing for me, that stems back to my time at Chemical Bank out on Long Island, NY in the early 1980’s.

When we started at the data center, the place was still a building site and we wore what we liked. Over the next 15-months though things quietened down, other people started working in the office and a bunch of mid-20’s mainframe geeks with t-shirts, sometimes shorts etc. stuck out a bit for a bank. Then the day came, my boss, Phil Gross, pointed out we were possibly amongst the highest paid people in the building, we were paid to think smart, and so we should dress smart. From then on it was back to normal shirt/tie etc, apart from the twice yearly lobster parties in the parking lot. One day perhaps we’ll get John McNic to start a web site with pictures, hopefully I’ll be retired by then…

So now we have chinposin Friday. If you are on twitter or flickr, post a picture that reflects you in a chinposin mood. This week I’ve been reflecting on my past and my future, so this chin pose is a good summary. Great fun, pretty simple, some people have been doing very funny things! Here’s to chinposin.

Have a great Christmas!

[Edit: Jan/8/2008. Removed graphic, you can see it here.]

I’ll be posting at least on one topic over the holidays, although a few have got me sparked up, @monkchips post on Erlang and why Amazon doesn’t need IBM, at least.

Not sure how much access to my ibm email I’ll have. I’m heading back to Europe today with four laptops, this one, the two I’ve been using for grid and web services development, and my prior IBM UK laptop. Turns out they want them all back.

Taking four laptops through security was fun! If you need to get in touch urgently either contact me through Twitter, or use google to find my personal email address. It’s not hard but I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader.

About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group. I was formerly Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell, and an IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I'm an information technology optimist.

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